Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Lost Commuters

Well, it is May already. . . and I have not written a blog entry for two months.

Whatever I am successful at, it is clearly not blogging.

I have had Bloggers' Block - largely from working hard, writing poetry, travelling and planting my allotment. All activities that suddenly seemed more important than writing for an audience of two or three people!

express train in Zell am See, Austria

Although, of course, I am really writing this blog for myself.

It has been a frentically hectic time. My life seems an express train at times.

I returned to Zell am See, in Austria which I really enjoyed.

Booking accommodation over the web, I ended up sending the first couple of nights in the youth hostel and the next three in the Grand Hotel - a vast contrast.

Both overlook the lake, which was frozen, and the Youth Hostel was friendly and very inexpensive.

But, despite its huge kitchen and team of chefs, the food was terrible, even at the low price they charged.

They desperately needed a visit from Gordon 'Boil-in-the-bag' Ramsay!

After a couple of days, I dragged my broken suitcase round the lake to The Grand Hotel, Zell am See, which really was the last word in luxury.

On the face of it, it was expensive, but when you considered the delicious five-course dinner was included plus the lovely swimming pool, sauna and jacuzzi, it started to look pretty reasonably priced.

I thoroughly enjoyed my stay there.

Mountains at Zell am See, Austria

It was a most beautiful week in Zell am See.

The frozen lake seemed magical to me, particularly at night, and I love walking around it.

And, unlike on my previous visit at Christmas, it snowed fairly constantly. Zell am See looks great in the snow, terrible in the rain!

Barman rapping in the Slam Cafe, Zell am See, Austria

Of course I ended up checking Zell am See's nightlife which, if anyone, I found even worse than before.

Visitors to Zell am See in the winter come to ski or snowboard and to drink.

I was a bit shocked by the sheer level of drunkenness in the town.

This was made worse by the fact the season was drawing to an end and was less busy than at Christmas, giving it a "drinking in Last Chance Saloon" feel about it.

Perhaps the worst place was the Diele Bar where I was told the ski instructors get free drinks for taking their ski groups for apres ski.

The result: young people drunk out of their minds by 6pm. I encountered one who'd fallen asleep and was still snoozing slumped over a table last at night, hours after his so-called mates and instructor had departed.

Very drunk sleeping apres skier in the Diele Bar, Zell am See, Austria

Boys smoking through straws in a bar in Zell am See, Austria

The other nightspots were not a hell of a lot better.

In the Dutch-run Slam Cafe they were friendly, though their main interest was to get you drinking shots in large quantities.

I was interested to learn that the Slam Cafe is only open in the ski season - for about four months a year.

But it was at least better than the dreadful pool-table bar where, what looked like under-aged boys, were learning to smoke through straws.

Greens Bar late at night in Zell am See, Austria

Crazy Daisy's was even worse, with its lazy bar staff and abusive English band, playing cover versions and boasting about their short hours and large sex life (yawn!!)

Crazy Daisy in Zell am See, Austria

I quite liked the intimate Greens Bar, although the people were on another planet with booze.

The Viva Disco is a club to avoid - like a throw-back to Romeo and Juliet's, in Hull, circa 1980!

All of the nightlife is much of a muchness.

In one bar I was drinking my expensive halves of lager at the same rate as the ski instructor and two girls on the neighbouring table were doing cocktail and spirit chaser rounds at 70 euros a time.

And the singer himself got so drunk, he couldn't remember the lyrics to the covers any more!

Train crossing Morecambe Bay at Arnside, Cumbria, UK

For all that, I enjoyed my second visit to Zell am See. Going to the frozen waterfalls at Krimml was fantastic, and my days in the Grand were just that.

Sadly, my skiing did not improve.

I was in just as much pain as on the previous occasion and really did not enjoy it much, apart from the wonderful scenery.

Since my return I have been really working hard at everything.

In the evenings I've been editing my long, narrative poem, The Commuter's Tale.

It is coming along well, though every time I think I have cracked it I realise there is still a bit more to do.

I went up to the Lake District for a day and a night and stayed in a beautiful place called Arnside, overlooking the Morecambe Bay.

Sandbank at Arnside, Cumbria, UK

It was hugely tidal and very tranquil - a little-known gem.

Sometimes when you plan trips overseas, one forgets just how beautiful Britain is.

Mac McFadden performing at OxFringe 2009

I have put a lot of my spare time into the OxFringe gig I did, which was quite a success.

I was sharing the show with three other poets and we did about 25 minutes each in two sets.

The whole show had been entitled The Lost Commuters, which I found quite flattering as it related closely to my contribution.

It was all brilliantly organised and themed. We all wore commuter clothes - and hats.

And 'train tickets' were handed out to the customers at the door.

Despite a wretched cold, I did a dozen minutes of funny performance poems for my first set and then read 13 minutes of The Commuter's Tale, in three extracts.

Overall, a great experience, and I would love to go back to do more at OxFringe.

Poet Laura King at OxFringe 2009

It was also a joy working on and performing with the show with my fellow poets - Mac McFadden, Danny Chivers, and Laura King who also a great job in organising and publicising the gig.

Poet Danny Chivers at OxFringe 2009

The April gig at Lewes Poetry at the Lewes Arms was also a big success.

I was promoting the leading poets of the Frogmore Papers - Jeremy Page, Ros Barber, Joe Sheerin, Rachel Playforth and Ellen de Vries.

The venue was full to capacity with a great atmosphere - and all the poets and the limerick competition went down well.

The poets in the Lost Commuters at OxFringe 2009

It gives me particular joy that the club succeeds as well with a bill of page poets as with performance poets - it is almost unique in that respect.

For instance, the following gig - on 21 May 2009 at the Lewes Arms - will feature the rising rap star MC Elemental.

Lewes FC's end to the season also created a lot of interest.

It was the Mighty Rooks' worst season in memory - largely thanks to the Board and their appointed coach, Kevin Keehan.

But it has to be said that once Kevin Keehan finally saw he had to do the honourable thing and quit, life at the Dripping Pan started to pick up.

Fully planted allotment at Earwig Corner, Lewes, UK

It was incredible to see Lewes beat Altringham, chalking up their first league victory in five months, having equalled a record for number of consecutive losses in the league that had stood for more than 100 years!

I cannot recall attending a more enjoyable football match.

That glorious 2 - 0 victory will stay in my mind forever, I hope.

Whatever his virtues, Kevin Keehan was a remarkably bad choice of coach. Yet, for most of his tenure, he seemed to blame everyone bar himself.

I was proud to see that when he quit, he told the Sussex Express that the last straw had been the fans, myself included, calling for his resignation.

And I would like to think that my High on Spring Water column in the excellent fanzine Ten Worthing Bombers played a little part in his decision.

Certainly, I think the fanzine became a far harder product to get out after he left. It suddenly dawned on us all that KK was all we had been writing about!

Sadly, Kev had quit before my dig at him in Mark Steel's Lewes documentary on BBC Radio 4, although no doubt he was listening.

Now, we are in the post-Keehan era. The not-so-mightly Rooks came bottom of their league and have been relegated.

With any luck, the bar will be open during the entire match next season.

I was quite touched by the last game of the season, when Lewes held the impressive York - the Mighty Minstermen - to a 1 - 1 draw.

We played with great spirit and, in the bar afterwards, fans mingered with players and staff and cheered the Rooks to an echo.

Not many clubs would have seen that after the kind of season we'd had. It was wonderful to hear!

Earwig Corner sunset in rain, Lewes, East Sussex, UK

On the subject of sport, I have taken up tennis, one of the few sports I have a little skill at.

Though far more of my time has been taken up by the allotment.

After two months of hard graft, I now have 35 lines of crops in.

My plot is fully cultivated - from top to bottom, a real rarity for an allotment.

I have a builder's muscles as a result, and also sun burn!

It is magic up at Earwig Corner in the early evening. Sometimes I sit there, sipping a can of beer and just soak up the atmosphere.

One memorable night, after I'd cycled up, it started to rain heavily as the sun was setting.

As you can see from the image above, it was sublime.